This was a difficult book and yet it was amazing due to the hugely creative imagination of it’s author. The story is soooo mournful but the author’s carefully light touch, redolent of traditional Persian stories along with South American magical realism, keeps it from being steeped in melancholia.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree
By Shokoofeh Azar
2020 in English / 272 pages
Read by Priya Ayyar – 8h 20m
Rating: 9.6 / Booker Prize short list – historical fiction
Yes, Shokoofeh Azar, uses a form of magical realism and in my opinion that’s probably a good choice because the story deals with the Iranian Revolution of 1988 when the Islamic Republic of Iran violently took over with extreme control. How else to keep that subject from becoming morose other than adding the wonderful fantastical elements typical of Persian Lit like One Thousand and One Nights.
Politics has never been much of a theme for fiction in Iran even today. In fact, today, reading or writing fiction is a dangerous thing to do in Iran. I read “Reading Lolita in Iran” (Azar Nafisi – 2003) years ago and nothing has changed. Even the translator of The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree remains anonymous “for reasons of safety”.
The Iranian Revolution of 1988 and its aftermath was extremely violent and Azar depicts that quite well.
The author, who has lived in Australia and Canada since 2011 where she relocated at the ages of almost 40, has some interesting things to say about writing this book. She was 16 at the time of the Revolution but she didn’t write The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree until after she had spent several years in Australia as a refugee. She is now living in Gelong, Victoria and is studying communication and journalism at Deakin University.
So the themes become family and finding safety and love in many forms as well as the connection between life and death, the living and the dead. Our first person narrator is already deceased but she has a story – or many stories I should say – to tell us. In some ways this book reminds me of One Thousand and One Nights ancient Middle Eastern origin) and also of Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain. Gao was the Chinese/French winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 2000.
The focus of the story is on Bahar, our narrator, her brother Sohrab, and sister Beeta along with Mom and Dad who live in a big house outside Razan, Iran. The house is on about 10 acres of land with a large Greengage tree (plum tree) growing on it. The family is made up of intellectuals who abhorred city life after the Revolution got going so they moved. And when Sohrab was executed and his body added to the piles of corpses ready for removal Mom climbed into the Greengage tree for three days only coming down out of her tree after she comes to an understanding and then Bahar moves up into it.
This is a lovely book about tragic times